Cold and flu season is upon us in the winter months. This is a concern for everyone, but for runners especially. Why runners?
Because while regular aerobic exercise strengthens the immune system, very hard workouts, races, and periods of intensive training temporarily suppress immune function, giving viruses a chance to gain a foothold.
And nothing will spoil your training quite like a nasty cold or flu!
Most runners are unwilling to train less or avoid racing for the sake of reducing their risk of getting sick. So what else can you do?
Look to your diet. When you think about nutrition for the immune system, you probably think about individual nutrients such as vitamin C and supplements like echinacea. But experts say that when it comes to fueling your immune system, everything matters.
A deficiency in any one of a long list of nutrients—even protein—may open the door to illness. The best way to prevent illness nutritionally is to maintain a balanced diet based on natural, whole foods.
Nevertheless, there are some individual foods that seem to be especially supportive of healthy immune functioning. Here are three of them.
You’ve heard the expression, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, there’s some truth to it. Apples have a higher concentration of antioxidants than almost any other commonly eaten food.
This makes apples good for your immune system, though not in the way scientists previously believed.
In the past, scientists thought that the antioxidants in foods like apples defended the body by neutralizing free radicals—molecules that attack healthy tissues.
But new research indicates that many antioxidants are actually weak toxins that provoke the body to strengthen its own built-in antioxidant defenses. In other words, antioxidant-rich foods enhance health by stimulating a beneficial stress response, similar to the way exercise itself does.
Garlic is rich in sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin that have been shown to exhibit antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects in a laboratory environment.
Outside the laboratory, a 2001 study by British scientists found that 12 weeks of garlic supplementation reduced the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections by 63 percent.
Scientists have learned fairly recently that an important part of the human immune system isn’t even human.
The colonies of bacteria that live in the gut of every person play an important role in protecting our bodies from foreign invaders.
Foods such as yogurt that contain probiotics can help these bacteria do their work more effectively.
A 2013 review by Korean researchers reported that “probiotics [have] a modest effect in common cold reduction.”
This means that eating yogurt regularly won’t prevent every cold and flu but it will give you more protection than almost any other individual food. Be sure to choose yogurt products that contain live yogurt cultures such as lactobacillus bulgaricus.